Kimberly Rogers Inquest -
Tues. Nov. 26, 2002 - Day 26
Thompson, Executive Director of LIFE*SPIN in London (Low Income Families
Empowerment Sole Support Parents Information Network) was called to the
stand as an expert witness by the Ontario Social Safety NetWork (OSSN)
and the Steering Committee on Social Assistance (SCSA).
- Ms. Thompson talked about the impact "cheque holds" are creating on families on OW who are not able to pay their rent and buy food for their children and the resulting huge fears that often arise over the possibility of eviction and even fear of removal of children by the Children's Aid Society (CAS) -- there is fear of teachers reporting to CAS when children fail to bring lunch to school.
- Additionally, letters that OW recipients need to obtain from landlords serve to stigmatize OW recipients .
- When Ms. Thompson
was questioned about the impact on women on social assistance versus men
on social assistance, the jury was excused by the coroner concerned that
Ms. Chic, counsel for the OSSN/SCSA may have been in violation of his
ruling on gender and systemic discrimination. Ms. Chic responded that
this evidence was included in Ms. Thompson's elaborated will-say and that
pregnancy and children go to the issue of gender and that she was looking
to clarify Ms. Thompson's answer to the question of "impact".
Ms. Chic further responded that Dr. Sakinofsky's testimony (The Crown's
expert witness on suicide) included evidence on Ms. Rogers' state of mind
during her pregnancy - which may have played into decisions she may have
made. The hearing was recessed for an hour pending a ruling from the coroner.
- Ms. Thompson gave evidence that when the social assistance cuts came into place, there were devastating impacts on shelter and basic needs. The result was a huge need for emergency food relief. In London, there was a 400% increase in emergency food relief. Additionally, the cuts forced some people with no option other than to give up their children. It caused emotional instability for many people on social assistance. One of the strategies government workers were suggesting to social assistance recipients was to take in a boarder to help minimize their housing expense. What followed for women who took up this strategy was that women got their benefits cut.
- Ms. Thompson also talked about the Rights and Responsibilities Form which does not have a line item for the reporting of CPP income. She shared one experience of an elderly woman charged with welfare fraud for failure to report CPP income who was devastated by the loss of apartment and her cat (whom she treasured). This woman had been advised by her caseworker to apply for CPP benefits. The woman did and was not aware that she had to report the CPP income or child tax credit (the latter deducted from recipients' benefits each month automatically). During her annual review, when questioned how she made out with the CPP application, the woman responded that she had been successful and how appreciative she was for the suggestion she pursue CPP benefits.
- This evidence appeared to have quite an impact on the jury and the media present at the hearing effectively demonstrating how confusing the system really is. Ms. Thompson testified that people don't know what's okay to report and not to report. (In the example above, the child tax credit is not to be reported as it is deducted automatically. The woman was advised to apply for CPP benefits but was not aware that she was to report CPP Income.)
- Ms. Thompson also gave evidence about another case involving a woman who had her basic needs amount deducted from her social assistance cheque because she took home leftovers from her weekly Sunday dinners at her parents' home.
- Ms. Thompson also talked about how the threat of losing one's housing affects their ability to look for employment. Employers do not look credibly at applicants without an address or even without a telephone.
- It is essential that the OW rules are made more clear.
- Ms. Thompson gave evidence under what conditions a cheque could be held back as follows:
i. When a worker requires more info eg: copy of birth certificate school record etc.
ii. If a recipient has unreported earnings.
iii. If material submitted by phone using the new Interactive Voice Reporting (IVR) system is bundled - eg. OW recipient uses IVR to report employment earnings and an error is made in the amount. Individual has no record of phone report. Error would trigger a "cheque hold" - the IVR system puts OW recipients at risk of over payment when inaccurate information is recorded.
Pending the decision of the judicial review, the Inquest will continue next week with scheduled witnesses as follows: Bruce Porter and Kim Pate, expert witnesses called by the CAEFS coalition to testify Monday to Wednesday December 2 - 4. Margaret Little, expert witness called by OSSN/SCSA is scheduled to testify on Friday, December 6.